Animal Care

How AfCE’S lean start-up approach to product innovation helped to revolutionise animal care

In 2018, one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies turned to AfCE to power urgently required innovation around calf health. The team had found that the mortality rate of calves is very high and that calf health is ignored by farmers. Vets are often only called in as ‘firefighters’, when it’s too late to make real change – and this ‘too little too late’ approach is significantly hurting both animal welfare and farming prosperity.


The Approach

AfCE has worked with this organisation across multiple projects in multiple business units, and has a reputation across the organisation for delivering in-depth, challenging and close mentorship, powering faster and more successful innovation.

Based on lean startup principles, AfCE’s discovery programme, on which the team embarked, encouraged a small team to experiment with possible solutions – favouring experimentation over elaborate planning.

Importantly, AfCE uses a “get out of the building” approach – getting close to customers to test hypotheses and ideas, right from the beginning of the process. The emphasis is on nimbleness and speed: allowing the team to pivot and move ideas if they don’t meet the ‘problem solution fit’ that’s required.

Ultimately, the idea which won out in the discovery phase was mobile application for vets. The premise was that a vet could conduct real-time assessments of farms and calves, calculate the overall cost of maintaining the farm and risk factors associated with it – ultimately allowing earlier intervention.

The idea promised to revolutionise calf care, and it was by following AfCE’s rigorous process that the team could move quickly through the discovery process to the incubation phase where, having pitched the product to the board, the team was able to go and build a viable product to take to market.


Building the Application

AfCE’s approach to incubation favours iterative development over traditional “big design up front”.

Caroline Hooft-Slootweg, AfCE’s expert mentor, explains the theory like this: “An iterative approach significantly de-risks going to market. If the objective is to get from A to B then we must start out with an idea that will do the job – that we know will work. That might be a skateboard – it gets you from place to place but doesn’t move you very fast or very stylishly. We might then improve it a bit – a scooter rather than a skateboard, before we move onto four wheels and eventually even add a motor.

This approach allows teams to demonstrate value immediately, and at every point of the journey. And while it is very tempting to launch into building out the solution and disregard collecting continuous customer feedback from experiments, which can lead to the project failing upon launch. Teams must continue with lean start-up principles, testing proposed product features as they go.

In this project, a tag-team of AfCE mentors effectively became product owners and guided a sequence of lean experiments using a combination of in-person workshops and virtual support for the team. This approach, where the product owner is removed from the business, allows for a clearer view of success. Unbiased, often challenging, feedback can be more freely given, and in this case this powered the route to an impactful and transformational product.


The Results

Working with AfCE allowed the team to challenge established thinking in a controlled way – harnessing the experiences of AfCE’s expert mentors and following its tried and tested processes which have been proven to deliver.

Ultimately, this business unit was sold, and it was in no small part the calf care solution which demonstrated the value and potential of the unit to the acquirer.